Conscience Rights of Health Care Workers Violated

Country: Spain

Date of incident: July 28, 2010

Spain’s government is systematically violating the conscience rights of health care workers on abortion, says a group of legal experts that is now taking action to restore those rights.

As of July 2010, Spanish law considers abortion to be an “autonomous right” for all women that medical practitioners may not oppose. Under the law doctors cannot urge a woman not to abort, nor can they refuse to refer for abortion or participate in abortion, unless they have specifically requested previously to be placed on a government “black list” of objectors.

Additionally, heath care workers are assessed by their professional bodies on how many abortions or abortion referrals they have provided.

“The Spanish legislation is based on the erroneous principle that medical practitioners have the professional and moral obligation to carry out an abortion, whether it is an abortion ‘on demand’ (within 14 weeks) or a ‘eugenic’ one,” the group of legal experts said.

A coalition, made up of the Spanish Defense Association of Conscientious Objection (ANDOC) and the European Centre for Law & Justice (ECLJ), with the support of European People’s Party, will hold a public meeting tomorrow at the Council of Europe, where they will present a report that analyses the “structural or systemic” problems with the way Spain deals with conscience rights.

Gregor Puppinck, director of the ECLJ, told that in Spain, “medical practitioners and nurses have been professionally sanctioned and sued for exerting this fundamental right recognized by both European and international legal standards.”

Late last year, an effort to eradicate the legal basis of conscientious objection to abortion for doctors and nurses was thwarted in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). In a vote of 56 to 51, the PACE rejected the proposal of Christine McCafferty, a British politician and abortion activist, to “regulate” conscientious objectors to abortion across Europe. Legal experts said that the “regulation” would have resulted in doctors being forced to participate in abortion, and the eradication of any legal concept of freedom of conscience with regard to abortion.

Instead, PACE members voted in wording that strongly opposed McCafferty’s proposal and re-established the right of doctors to conscientious objection.

In Spain medical practitioners opposed to abortion may only object if they have applied for permission to refuse, and are placed on a government registry of objectors, a practice that Puppinck says places even more pressure on doctors to conform.

Under the system, doctors who object must place themselves on the register before being faced with the actual situation. If a doctor is not registered as conscientious objectors, the law requires him either to refer the woman to another doctor or commit the abortion himself.

Moreover, under the current system, family doctors are not eligible to be included on the objector register, although these are often the first to be consulted by a pregnant, abortion-minded woman. Family doctors are obliged under the law to refer women to abortion specialists and are required to sign a certificate of visitation, which is needed by the woman to abort.

The number of abortions a doctor participates in also has an effect on the advancement of his career. The Certified Credit Professional Program is the national program for career management for doctors and the program assesses doctors according (among other criteria) to the number of referrals and abortions they commit annually.

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